What do pediatricians do when their own kids get sick? Here's what they told us.

 A young child sitting in a chair looks up at a doctor during an exam.

Pediatricians who are parents share what they do when their own kids are sick. (Getty Images)

It's inevitable with kids: At some point, they're going to get sick. It's common for first-time parents and even their more seasoned counterparts to feel nervous when this happens. Are you doing the right thing? How can you help your little one feel better? And when can they do playdates again?

While pediatricians treat kids for a living, the ones who are parents know this feeling too. "In some ways, pediatricians get even more nervous because we've seen all the bad things that can happen," Dr. Gina Posner, a pediatrician at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif., tells Yahoo Life.

So, what do pediatricians who are parents do when their own kids are sick? Yahoo Life tapped seven doctors across the country for their personal experiences and advice.

'I'll kiss them on the back of their head, but I don't want to go near their face'

Posner is mom to kids ages 12 and 14, and she's seen plenty of illnesses in her household. The way she reacts "depends on the type of sickness." If one of her children has a runny nose or cough, she tests them for COVID-19. "I don't want to send them to school if they'll be spreading COVID," she explains.

If the test is negative and her children seem OK, she'll send them to school in a mask so they don't spread germs to others. "If they have a fever or bad headache, I'll let them stay home and rest," she says, noting that she encourages her kids to drink plenty of fluids. "Hot tea and honey is our go-to here," she says. "If they have an upset belly, I may recommend that they have ginger tea to help calm the belly."

To protect the rest of her family, Posner says, she'll run air purifiers with HEPA filters and try to spread everyone out. "I won't have kids sit right next to us," she says. "I'll kiss them on the back of their head, but I don't want to go near their face."

Posner also likes to make matzo ball soup for her sick kids. "I'm vegetarian, so chicken noodle soup doesn't work for my family," she explains.

Posner will usually send her kids back to school when they're feeling better or if they've been 24 hours without a fever (if they had one in the first place). If they have plans with friends, she makes sure to reach out to the other parents in advance to let them know her child has been ill. "Then, I let the other parent decide if they want to keep the plans," she says.

'Ginger ale works as well as a lot of medicines for an upset stomach'

Dr. Daniel Ganjian is a pediatrician at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., with four kids ranging in age from 3 to 12. Ganjian tells Yahoo Life that being a pediatrician gives him a sense in advance of what illness his kids might develop.

"I already know what viruses are going around the community — that's a helpful thing," he says. "Just probability-wise, I can say what my child might have, even without examining them."

If his child has a cough and runny nose, he'll often give them nasal saline spray, turn on a vaporizer and encourage them to drink tea with honey. If they have a fever, he'll recommend acetaminophen or ibuprofen — and he does the same for earaches. "I don't even check my kid's ears until it's been two or more days," he says. "Close to 90% of the time, it will go away in a day or two, as long as the pain is not severe or there's no pus coming out of the ear. I don't want to give my kids antibiotics all the time."

If his kids are vomiting or nauseous, he has ginger ale at the ready. "Ginger ale works as well as a lot of medicines for an upset stomach," Ganjian says. He notes that he usually only keeps his kids home from school "if they had a fever in the last 24 hours or if they're really out of it." He adds, "Sometimes you can look at your kid and they're just not looking good. That's when I'll keep them home."

'As long as they're hydrated, I'm OK'

Dr. Krupa Playforth, a pediatrician at Warm Heart Pediatrics in northern Virginia and founder of the Pediatrician Mom, has kids who are 2, 6 and 8. "As a pediatrician, I know that the majority of illnesses children catch are caused by viruses, and very often there is little to do but focus on supportive care," she tells Yahoo Life. "Additionally, regardless of the cause of an illness, dehydration is one of the most common reasons that children end up needing emergency care. So, unless there are red flags signaling a bacterial infection, I usually will begin with focusing on comfort and hydration."

Playforth says she'll usually keep her children home if they're not feeling well. "I have a fairly low threshold to keep my kids home when sick, especially for those that are younger," she says. "I do understand that this can be more challenging for families that do not have flexible child care arrangements." She keeps her kids home if they have a fever, are coughing a lot, have vomiting or diarrhea or just seem really wiped out.

She often reaches for a family recipe when it comes to treating illness. "I grew up being given honey and turmeric for sore throats and coughs, and sometimes even 'Haldi milk,' which is an Indian remedy that consists of honey, turmeric and milk," she says. "The data primarily supports honey, which has been shown to decrease nighttime cough and can be soothing for sore throats, so that is often our go-to."

When her kids are sick, she and her partner will pick a "sick" parent to handle the sick child and a "well" parent to take care of the healthy kids and try to keep them apart. Sick kids will usually have downtime in a separate room, where they can play with Legos or use screens, while everyone else is often masked.

"I don't stress out about what they do and do not eat when they're sick, because the truth is, none of us have great appetites when we are sick," Playforth says. "As long as they're hydrated, I'm OK. I also tend to be more lenient with things like breakfast for dinner, large amounts of mac and cheese, toast and yogurt if that is what they want."

Playforth says she relies on her children's own pediatrician for help when they're sick. "Somehow, when your own child is sick, all objective thinking goes out the window," she says. "While most parents worry about the common things, my mind also goes to the more rare random things that can cause a set of symptoms, which is unhelpful. Having a good pediatrician for my own children who can talk me off the ledge has been invaluable."

'I am a big fan of homemade chicken soup'

Dr. Jenny Schwab, a pediatrician at Rocky Hill Pediatrics, chair of community pediatrics at the UConn School of Medicine and a member of the Connecticut Children's Care Network, tells Yahoo Life that she often reaches for family recipes when her kids are sick.

"I am a big fan of homemade chicken soup," Schwab says, noting that she'll often add extra garlic, ginger, pepper, parsley and fresh lemon juice when making it for a sick family member. She also likes to reach for chamomile tea with honey and lemon for a cough, or even pineapple. "Fresh pineapple can help stop cough and loosen mucus — it has the enzyme bromelain," she says.

'A slight cough is OK'

Dr. Ashanti Woods, a pediatrician at Mercy Family Care Physicians in Baltimore, calls his first experience with a sick child at home "scary" — his 1-month-old had respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) bronchiolitis, an infection of the smallest airways in the lungs. The baby had "rapid breathing and wheezing with coughing spells," but he was able to treat it with a nebulizer at home. "If I were not a pediatrician, I would not have necessarily had this access," he says.

Now that his kids are over the age of 12 months (honey is not considered safe for children under 1), Woods says he's "a big fan of honey and honey-based products for respiratory issues for my kids." He will usually send his children back to school when they've been fever-free for 24 hours without the use of fever-reducing medication and have no severe coughing. "A slight cough is OK, with good cough-covering technique or if they're able to wear a mask," he says.

'I don't use cough and cold medications'

Dr. Hanna Jaworski, pediatric division chief at Corewell Health, says that "rest is critically important" when her kids are sick. "I have two teenagers at home — my kids are 14, 12 and 7 — and helping them understand it's important to get to bed early and they don't need to be running around with friends is key," she says.

If her children have a fever, Jaworski says, she'll often give them a home COVID test to make sure her family doesn't need to isolate. "I don't use cough and cold medications, as they don't work well and have significant potential side effects," she says. "I also don't seek out antibiotics unless I'm particularly worried about strep throat, ear infection or pneumonia. Generally all three will come with fever and more significant symptoms."

When her kids are sick, Jaworski stresses the importance of good hand hygiene, avoiding unnecessary close contact and cleaning surfaces that are regularly used by sick family members. Foodwise, she says she usually gravitates toward "bland or easily digestible" foods. "Soft or liquid-based foods, like soups or stews, are also favorites," she says. "I follow the kids' lead, though. If it doesn't sound good, I don't make it."

'I trust my children's instincts'

Dr. Katie Lockwood, a primary care pediatrician at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, tells Yahoo Life that she's learned from personal experience to listen to her kids when they say they're not feeling well. "When I was in second grade, I woke with a stomachache but was sent to school anyway because that's what we did in the 1980s. Later that morning, I vomited in my classroom and got sent home," she says. "As a result, I trust my children's instincts." Lockwood keeps her kids home when they have a fever or are obviously sick, "but also when they tell me that their symptoms are significant enough to interfere with their learning."

Lockwood says she doesn't give over-the-counter cold and cough medications to her children often, if ever. "These medications often have multiple ingredients and can have unintentional, unwanted side effects," she says. "Also, if a child is coughing, we often want them to cough out their mucus rather than suppress it. So, if my child has pain or fever, we may use acetaminophen or ibuprofen, but we do not use combination products for colds."

While Lockwood stresses the importance of seeing her child's pediatrician when they're sick, she also relies on her own expertise. "Most recently, one of my children had a 104-degree fever on our home thermometer," she says. "I know many parents who would have rushed him to the emergency department. However, my training allowed me to remain calm and remember that many viruses cause high fevers and it is more important to consider how the child is handling the fever than the number on the thermometer alone. So, we treated it with some ibuprofen, cool compresses and hydration."

But Lockwood says that there are some illnesses where her training "can cause me to overreact." In those situations, she says, she relies on her husband and family for perspective. "It is easy for my worried brain to leap to those what-ifs," she says.

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